Make Your Picture Book Stand Out

With all of the picture books out there, how do you make your picture books stand out? This is a question that if you haven't asked (and answered) it, it's probably time that you did.

Let's assume that you have an idea. You might even have a picture book manuscript, and that's great! Sometimes, I have to write a story while it's flowing, or I lose the opportunity to capture it.

What Comes Next?

For me, before I start revising, sometimes before I even start writing, there's one important step that makes a huge difference. I search for my title and my character names on Amazon and Google to see what comes up. If it's a nonfiction topic, I search by topic.

If nothing comes up, I start revising. But usually something comes up, even if it isn't a book with the exact same title.

It's important to pay attention to the things that pop up. If your book were to get published, those are the things that would pop up for kids, parents, teachers and librarians looking for your book. For example, one time I was searching for the name of a female fox character (such a cute, memorable name) I'd written, and the first thing that came up in Google (multiple times actually) was a porn star with the same name. There wasn't anything naughty or suggestive about my character's name. Do you think I changed it anyway? You bet I did!

Another example: One of my critique partners wrote a picture book biography about an amazing female photographer, which made it all the way to the editorial board at a publisher. The publisher passed because if children searched for the photographer online, they would find a photo of a beheading that she took during the Korean War. 

Those are both negative examples, but you can also find things that will help you. The rhyming picture book that I'm working on right now is based on an old song, so when I searched for the title, other picture books based on that song came up. That didn't make me abandon mine. I ordered those books in through the library, and even bought one, to use as mentor texts. I found that they were all 32-paged picture books, but the number of stanzas varied. My number of stanzas fell within the right range. I'm using these mentor texts to see what worked well, what didn't, and what I can do differently to really make mine stand out. I'm even more excited about this project than I was before.

If you're writing nonfiction, you may find insights (new research and books) you'd overlooked previously. This might take your book in a different direction than you'd originally planned, but that's turning out to be a great thing for another project of mine. The more you know, the better.

Ariel Richardson and Melissa Manlove (editors at Chronicle Books) shared some thoughts on what to do when you find someone else has written a book similar to yours in one of their  Submission Ready workshops. I think you'll find it reassuring. I did.

My Favorite Quotes

Melissa Manlove: “You do have to have some of the courage of your own conviction and believe that the thing you're making is awesome.”

Ariel Richardson: “I think that's where things like voice come in. No one is going to replicate yours.”

Ariel Richardson: “That's where the craft of writing really distinguishes one book from another.”

They said that they do want your book to stand out in some way but that there are a lot of different ways to make that happen.

I've actually heard writers warn conference attendees that research can be a form of procrastination, so  writing this post fascinating TED talk that Adam Grant gave a few years ago. It's called, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.” I'm not going to elaborate on it, but I'm going to leave it here for you. It might make you feel better about your process. It made me feel better about mine.

Adam Grant: “To be original, you don't have to be first. You just have to be different and better.”

In the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. If you watch Adam Grant's TED Talk, how has procrastinating made you a better creator?   

Thanks for reading!

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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